A Guide to Historic Events in the UK

Hey Owlets,

The UK is known for it’s love of traditions that range from cute and quaint to weird and wonderful - if you’re not from the UK it can be hard to understand why they started and how they’ve become such an ingrained part of UK culture. Truthfully, a lot of the most historic events aren’t attended by many locals anymore - they’re either an odd tradition that a small town keeps alive, or they’re attended by tourists. Either way, the UK has some pretty quirky traditions so it’s interesting to learn about them, even if you don’t get to visit them!

Wassailing - South West England and South Wales

Wassailing is a traditional event that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, meaning “good health”, where people go into orchards to dance, sing and make loud noises to scare away the evil spirits and “wake” the trees so they’ll produce better crop. Wassailing takes place every January, mainly in Somerset which is famous for its apple cider. It’s much less of a popular tradition than it used to be, but you can still find a few events around the South West of the UK and it’s definitely something that’s worth witnessing at least once in your life!

Changing of the Guard - Central London

I know pretty much everyone knows about the changing of the guard, but a lot of people don’t appreciate the history behind it. When Queen Victoria moved back to Buckingham Palace it split the guard across St James Palace and Buckingham Palace, which is how it remains today. The Changing of the Guard is exactly that - it’s when the old guard clocks off and the new guards take their place. During the ceremony the old guard march into the courtyard of Buckingham Palace for inspection. The new guard then shakes hands with the old guard before marching to their post. Most locals don’t give the Changing of the Guard a second thought, and while it’s widely thought of as a tourist trap the guards are still fully trained members of the “House Battalion” and have sworn to protect the royal family.

Horse Racing - Across the UK

In recent years horse racing has become more controversial due to questions about animal welfare and the ethics of the sport, but the races are still very popular and draw huge crowds at every event. There are a huge number of race events every year, but the most popular are probably the Grand National and Ascot - the latter being the event that everyone knows as the place to dress up in your fanciest clothes and enjoy a drink in the sunshine. Grand National is more about the racing, while Royal Ascot is more about the experience. Other famous racing events include Cheltenham and Chester - you can find out more about horse racing in the UK by visiting the Richard Hannon blog.

Cheese Rolling, Gloucestershire

Yep, cheese rolling. This is possibly one of the more famous (or infamous) events in the UK, and having lived in Gloucestershire for most of my life I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed until it started doing the rounds on Instagram a few years ago! The premise is simple - competitors launch themselves down a steep hill (Coopers Hill, if you want to visit), chasing a giant wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. It’s a surprisingly dangerous event, with broken bones being fairly common place. What’s the prize that makes these injuries worth it? The beaten up wheel of cheese, obviously.

Photo: Bognor Birdman

International Birdman, Sussex

If you’ve seen videos of people throwing themselves from a pier into the ocean with a strange contraption strapped to them, you’ve seen the Birdman competition. Held across two towns - Bognor Regis and Worthing - the aim of the competition is to build a glider and see how far you can get. Anyone who manages to reach the 100m mark wins £30,000, but most people join in just for fun which results in some great costumes and hilarious runs! It’s the opposite side of the country to me, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to watch in person. Maybe one day…

Other Weird Traditions 

Even though the UK is a small country there’s still a lot of variation between the different counties. Sussex has Birdman, the South West has cheese rolling and wassailing, and Scotland has a fire festival (not the dodgy Netflix documentary kind, obviously). Throw in a rubber duck race down the Thames and setting barrels alight in Devon and you’ve got a whole list of events that are guaranteed to keep you entertained!

Love and Feathers, 
 The Owlet 💜 
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